(Winner 1972) Death Wish
(Rushton 2013) Time Team: Ep.271 ― Special: Twenty Years of Time Team
(Disney & Iwerks 1928) The Gallopin’ Gaucho [Mickey Mouse #2]
(St. Clair & Tuttle 1929) The Canary Murder Case
(Nichols 1913) Fatty Joins the Force
(Castle 1959) The Tingler
(Winner 1972) Death Wish
24442. (Jean-Philippe Rameau) Pygmalion [complete opera; d. Leonhardt; Elwes, van der
. . . . . Sluis, Vanhecke, Yakar]
24443. (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) Mosquito
(Kiri Te Kanawa) Solo e Amore — Puccini Arias:
. . . . 24444. (Giacomo Puccini) “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca
. . . . 24445. (Giacomo Puccini) “Se come voi” from Le Villi
. . . . 24446. (Giacomo Puccini) “In quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut
24407. (Wilfed Thesiger) Among the Mountains — Travels Through Asia
24408. (Philip Mattera) Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent: Subsidy Tracker 2.0 Reveals
. . . . . Big-Business Dominance of State and Local Development Incentives [report]
(Katherine Mansfield) In a German Pension:
. . . . 24409. (John Middleton Murry) Introductory Note [preface]
. . . . 24410. (Katherine Mansfield) Germans at Meat [story]
. . . . 24411. (Katherine Mansfield) The Baron [story]
This blog has been online for more than eight years. A good deal has changed in that time.
When I began PhilPaine.com in 2006, it was only read by a handful of friends. Since I held no academic position, and had more or less failed as a fiction writer, I did my work in obscurity. A single paper, written in collaboration with an established scholar, Steven R. Muhlberger, was my only claim to academic legitimacy. Steve’s patient friendship and emotional support have been the key to my survival. His own blog, the literate and informative Muhlberger’s World History, preceded mine. The same can be said for Skye Sepp and Isaac White, whose regular visits, intellectual stimulus, and companionship have kept me from going bonkers.
Now, in 2014, the picture is a little different. I still work an outdoor physical labourer’s job to pay the rent (In Toronto’s current cold snap, my abused muscles are naggingly reminding me of this fact), but I now have a modest academic reputation, and some of my writings are widely disseminated. I have witnessed some of the ideas which, when Democracy’s Place in World History was first published in 1993, were novel and unorthodox, become a significant stream of thought surfacing in many quarters. The blog has a wide international readership — though not bloated numbers.
My blog writing is not meant to be the same as formal academic writing, and much of it is rough and unpolished. Topics as different as the sociology of silent films, current hot bands, democracy in the ancient world, how to cook bannock, and why you shouldn’t climb volcanoes in substandard sneakers appear in the blog, higgledy-piggledy. But among these, in the beginning years, were a series of articles called “Meditations on Democracy and Dictatorship” which are still regularly read today, and have had some influence. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, and some people have asked me to re-issue them, so I’m moving them up the chronological counter so they can have another round of high visibility.
Some references in these “meditations” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were written. But I will leave them un-retouched. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.
Phil Paine, Toronto, Mar 18, 2014.
The extended blog entries called “Meditations” have proven to be the most popular items on this website. While some of these essays have some scholarly trappings (citations, etc.), they are primarily personal documents, and thus may contain colloquial prose, profanity, or other non-academic elements.
Anyone is entitled to reprint these pieces, as long as they are not altered, and credit is given.
[Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), born a slave in Maryland, U.S.A., secretly taught himself to read, and successfully escaped slavery in 1838. His autobiography catapulted him to prominence in the anti-slavery movement. Widely known as the “Sage of Anacostia”, Douglass was the most prominent and influential African-American of his century, and one of the greatest philosophers of freedom in human history. In both word and deed, he struggled for the freedom and equality, not only of African-American males like himself, but for women, native Americans, immigrants, and all other human beings. One of his favorite quotations was: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”]
From A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845):
Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty–to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.
elsewhere, Douglas said:
To make a contented slave it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken the moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason.
From Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man:
Man has no property in Man.
These meditations are constructed with a particular discipline. Every effort will be made to ensure that their terminology is consistent and meaningful. The reader will probably notice the conspicuous absence of some terms that are elsewhere accepted. The terms “capitalism” and “socialism”, for example, are not used anywhere because I consider them to be buzzwords without identifiable meaning. The terms “left” and “right”, supposedly representing a “political spectrum” of ideas and practice, have never been used in my work. This classification of political ideas is pernicious nonsense, and its use reduces any political discussion to incoherent gibberish. Instead, I will rely on a rational classification of political movements and ideas. The terms “West” and “Western”, along with their revealingly tendentious correlate “Non-Western”, are also renounced. They are embarrassing remnants of a narrow-minded past, still used with annoying imprecision and capriciousness. Worst of all, they came into use because of a profound misunderstanding of the world’s mosaic of societies. My reasons for these judgments will be expounded in an appendix to the Meditations.
Apart from this discipline, I’ll avoid creating an idiosyncratic jargon of my own. I prefer plain language. When I use a word or a phrase in some way that differs from general custom, or the reasonable expectations of readers, I will make every effort to make my meaning clear. However, language being a slippery thing, I can expect to fail at this now and then.
Works of serious thought are not written without an implied audience. The writer cannot avoid having some mental image, however vague, of who is likely to be reading their words. Often it can be easily recognized, for example, that a given writer assumes that the reader resides in their own country, or is of the same gender, or has a similar social or educational background. The more serious the subject matter, the more narrow this assumed audience is likely to be. Occasionally, a “we” or an “us” will appear in a work that makes it plain that the author assumes that “we” or “us” excludes most of the human race. This is not one of those works. It’s intended for all human beings, everywhere on the planet. If I had my druthers, I would prefer it to be simultaneously written in every language. Unfortunately, I can only write expressively and precisely in one language, English. Fortunately, that language is the world’s most widely distributed, and a work written in English can find it’s way into the hands of a diverse readership, scattered across the globe. I am more concerned that my ideas reach people in places like Papua New Guinea, Transylvania, Bourkina Fasso, or Burma than that I gain popularity among my own compatriots. I have friends and acquaintances in all these places, and the mental picture of a reader that hovers in my mind, as I write, includes them. They have bigger problems to deal with than my own countrymen. The subjects I discuss are more urgent for them. I live in the astonishingly lucky country called Canada. Compared to most places in the world, it has no serious political problems to speak of. I will try not to forget that, and I will try not to glibly dismiss the experience of people for whom the definition and application of democracy are life-and-death issues.
All philosophies stand on choices that cannot be justified by proof. Any amateur Socrates can demonstrate that I can’t prove that two and two are four, or that freedom is desirable, or even that I exist. Ultimately, ideas, no matter how passionately held, rest on assumptions that cannot be known with absolute certainty. It does not follow from this that we should avoid acting on significant assumptions, or that we should abandon the analysis of ideas. If I’m standing in the middle of the street, and see a twelve-ton truck hurtling in my direction, I don’t stand there, paralyzed by epistemological uncertainty. I jump out of its way. Later, seated on a comfortable couch, with a cold beer in my hand, I might indulge in the luxury of reflecting that the truck may have been an illusion, or that I cannot prove with certainty that being hit by a truck is worse than not being hit by a truck. All of us must choose our basic assumptions, either in a conscious process, guided by reason, or unconsciously.
This is a meditation on democracy, and democracy only becomes a coherent idea when it rests on the assumption that human beings have rights. This, in turn, rests on the assumption that there is a moral dimension to the universe. Outside of these assumptions, political thought becomes arbitrary. If individual human beings have no rights, then whatever happens is self-sufficiently justified, and any state of affairs that human beings find themselves in is as desirable as any other. Effectively, if there is no moral dimension to the universe, then it is a matter of indifference what happens. Events just come to pass ― say, the Holocaust, or the Slave Trade, or Abu Graib ― and there is no point in discussing them. It is pointless to seek justice or defy injustice, because the very idea of justice depends on the assumption of a morality that rests upon something more substantial than custom or whim. In the absence of moral choice, people seek some sense of order in human affairs through some amoral organizing principle. Loyalty to a group, obedience to authority, or the familiarity of ritual become substitutes for ethical conscience.
“Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that category has no one left in it.” — Howard Winters, an American archaeologist who studied ancient settlement and trade patterns [quoted by Anne-Marie Cantwell in Howard Dalton Winters: In Memoriam]
“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Wilhelm Göring, second in command to Adolf Hitler.
What most tellingly distinguishes democratic from non-democratic thought is its respect for human beings. By this, I don’t mean respect for some nebulous abstraction called “humanity” or “the people”, which is all too easily transformed into a mystical collectivism. It’s a respect for real-life individual human beings, who live, fall in love, have children, and struggle to find security and happiness. In democratic thought, the wellbeing of individual human beings is the purpose and measure of political choices. Wellbeing, to the democrat, is defined first in terms of what matters most to conscious beings — liberty, self-respect, dignity, control over their own lives. The physical necessities of life, such as food and shelter, are meaningless to human beings except within the context of those values. We are not cattle.
Western Europe, and lands culturally derived from it, have made some relatively successful approximations of democracy and civil society, and combined them with noticeable prosperity. People both inside and outside this favoured zone wonder why, and they have often sought the answer in two particular areas: religious traditions, and the dramatic intellectual era called “the Enlightenment”. As someone who has written about the universal aspects of democracy, I’ve often felt some annoyance at what I consider parochial views of history, and dubious ideas of causality. I feel great sympathy for people outside the favoured zone, who are hopeful that they can have a democratic future, but are discomfited by the “second-banana” status that it seems to imply for their cultural heritage. This is especially true in the Islamic world, where past cultural glories and present embarrassments combine to make the search for democratic reform a touchy subject. I think that an excessively cartoonish view of the Enlightenment, and of the relationship between religion and democracy, is part of the problem.
Recently, two Canadian high school students did a remarkable thing. It was remarkable enough to generate a large amount of comment in the blogosphere. According to the original news item in the Halifax Chronicle Herald , a grade 9 student “arrived for the first day of school last Wednesday and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up.” Anyone who has attended high school knows the usual outcome of such situations. But in this case, it was different. Two senior students, Travis Price and David Shepherd, were disgusted by this crude bullying. “It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do something,” David explained. The two students bought 75 pink tank-tops and, rallying students through the internet, persuaded half the student body to wear them, or to supply their own. When the bullies next came to school, they were confronted by an ocean of pink solidarity. “The bullies got angry,” said Travis. “One guy was throwing chairs (in the cafeteria). We’re glad we got the response we wanted.”
It’s my contention that both hierarchical and egalitarian behaviour are equally “natural” to human beings. These two methods of interacting with others in a group have co-existed in all human societies, from the earliest stages of our evolution as a species. It is also my contention that, while there is a limited place for hierarchical thinking and behaviour in a good society, it is egalitarian thinking that has created civilization and morality. Any society that is dominated by hierarchy is essentially backward, self-destructive, and immoral.